Your Cancer Answers -- Dr. Chris Lutman

Question: Is there a screening test for ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer affects approximately 23,000 women per year in the United States. Nearly 15,000 women die annually each year from this disease. Most women diagnosed with ovary cancer are over the age of 50. Presently, there appears to be no effective screening program for ovary cancer. The early symptoms are often vague abdominal and pelvic discomfort, bloating, a sense of fullness and urinary frequency. Unfortunately, most cases present at an advanced stage, making it a very difficult disease to cure.

In spite of these facts, the mortality rate for ovary cancer in the US has fallen by 33% over the past 40 years. This has been due to serious advances in the surgical, medical and supportive care of women with ovary cancer. It is now clear that many cases of ovarian cancer likely emanate from the nearby fallopian tubes. Removing the fallopian tubes as a prevention strategy is now a standard choice for women.

It appears that nearly 20% of ovarian cancer cases are familial, or genetic, in nature. All women in the US diagnosed with ovarian cancer should be offered genetics testing to detect different cancer causing mutations. Prevention strategies such as prophylactic removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes are used to reduce ovarian cancer risk in affected families.

Cancer medicine has undergone a rapid revolution. Patients with cancer are now often treated with different targeted therapies. These novel drugs exploit particular biological or molecular targets in cancer cells. They work quite differently from conventional chemotherapy and in many studies have shown significant advantages.

Recently, a large study revealed that women with one particular familial form of ovarian cancer had significant improvement in survival when treated by a novel class of drugs called PARP inhibitors. Furthermore, studies of immunotherapy agents and vaccines (medical strategies that harness the immune system to treat cancer) are underway in ovarian cancer.

Women affected by ovarian cancer have a much better prognosis when their care is managed by a gynecologic oncologist. These are expert gynecologists with advanced certification in the comprehensive care of women affected by gynecologic cancer. Most importantly, gynecologic oncology programs and practices are unique in the world of oncology in that they offer “one stop” comprehensive care for women and families affected by ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer continues to represent a significant challenge. Today, there is ample reason for hope as we continue to improve our understanding of ovary cancer and improve the lives of the people we serve who are affected by it.

You are invited to attend an interesting evening of fun and information. Understand Ovarian Cancer from our expert Gynecologic Oncologist speaker and participate in hands-on therapeutic and empowering craft project on Monday, Sept. 16 at 5 p.m., Mission Hope Conference Room, Santa Maria, or on Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 5 p.m., Mission Hope Arroyo Grande (3rd Floor of Matthew Will Memorial Medical Center). Seating is limited so make your reservations soon. Please call Mission Hope Cancer Center at 805-291-HOPE (4673).

HAVE A QUESTION? This weekly column produced by Marian Cancer Care Services invites you to submit your questions to “Your Cancer Answers” at the following email address: mariancancercare@dignityhealth.org

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